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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Too Boring To Live - A Guest Post by Derek Bishop (with Giveaway)

We've all read them―more than we've cared too, no doubt―and if we're being honest, we've also enjoyed them on more occasions than we would like to admit. If you're a writer, you've certainly written a few, too: stories with a main character who was borrrrring.

For a romance story, this is an especially easy trap to fall into, which is why Romancelandia is permeated with lackluster main characters. It's easy to overlook them when they stand beside a secondary character that is such a gorgeous, towering bastion of fascinating traits and qualities―the love interest. As long as the point of view character is there to let us look through their eyes at this amazing personage, as long as their body and emotions are there to act as avatars of our own, we're only partially concerned with their dullness.

But, let's face it, this sort of narrative mechanism is more pornographic than romantic. Reading a well-written Romance where the main character is just as captivating as the lover provides a far more rewarding experience.

For the sake of example, let's take the typical mainstream heroine and her masculine love interest. A marked disparity between the attractive and interesting qualities of the hero and heroine will strain a reader's credulity (or hero and hero, heroine and heroine, as the case may be). The hero of most romances is usually someone pretty cool. He might be a vampire, a drifter cowboy, or an admiral in a zeppelin fleet. He usually has a series of hobbies like dolphin riding, base-jumping, or sculpting phallic artwork from rhinoceros dung. He's probably seen and done many amazing things: traveled the world, gone into space, lived a thousand years, fought in wars, cured plagues, etc., etc.

So, of course it would make sense that he fall in love with a homely, awkward girl that has lived in the same unremarkable town her whole life and whose sole occupation is angsting out about how unexceptional she is, right? That makes sense, right?

A common aspect of being in a relationship with someone we find accomplished, talented, or charismatic is disbelief over how this person could ever desire someone like us. Most of us (I would hope) are not egocentric assholes, so we all experience these types of insecurities. We do not view the remarkable things about ourselves with as much weight as another person looking at us from the outside. In a romantic story, it's important for this sentiment to show itself within the POV character's thoughts―to a certain extent.

Voicing insecurities too frequently—or in fact making them too justified—can become tiresome, however. It is often a result of unrestrained self-insertion. Writers must be careful to make their main character more than just a proxy of themselves. In a romance story, it's easy to focus too much on the attractive traits of the love interest and neglect the main character.

The trick is to make it clear to the reader that, even though the POV character may not hold her attractive qualities in high regard, they're clearly there. Most Romances do this quite effectively by having the love interest as a secondary POV character, so we can see the heroine through his eyes. If the two-points-of-view structure doesn't fit a particular story, however, then a writer must rely on subtler means.

My eBook novella, Incendium, was just released last month from Storm Moon Press. When I was in the process of writing it, and feeling pretty good about the first draft, I decided to give it to a good friend of mine to read.

She told me all the many ways that it sucked.

Every writer has (or really should have) a friend like this. First, you give your story to all the people you know will praise it, build up your confidence, and tell you all the good things about it. Then, when you're sure you're ready, you give it to the person you know will tear it to shreds―along with your heart. You do this because you know it will make your story better. You'll be able to sort through the bloody, mangled pieces of your creation, pick out the scraps that are salvageable, and stitch them back together to grow an even better story around them.

In this case, my friend told me that my main character was boring.

Incendium is about a prince who falls in love with a mysterious stranger he meets one night in the palace gardens beneath the moonlight. Unbeknownst to him, this man is the dragon that has begun terrorizing the kingdom, now clad in mortal form. When my critical friend read it, she said, "Yes, of course this prince would fall in love with such an intriguing, obviously magical stranger. He's cool, and he's hot. But why would the dragon fall in love with the prince? Yes, he's a prince, and he's physically attractive, but he's just kind of blah. All he does is let things happen to him, and then goes along with them."

My reader is a big Ayn Rand fan, and she quoted the Fountainhead to me: "love is exception-making." Now, I can't stand Ayn Rand, but I could get behind that argument. My friend's point was that there had to be something extraordinary about my main character that would catch the heart of the dragon, that would make him fall in love with this one particular person and not all the others that existed in the world. This was hard to hear, but it made me realize the weak points of my character and how to improve them.

So, what are some ways to make a main character more interesting? What are some ways that worked for me? First off, he or she must be a fully developed character. (Again, for sake of example, the mainstream male/female pairing will do.) As she's talking with a love interest, and they're getting to know each other, she should tell stories about past experiences: conflicts she's come into, and problems she's resolved. This could provide opportunity for connecting with the love interest in diverse ways.

She needs to have passions, hobbies, and pursuits. These will provide good material for things she and the love interest might spend time doing together. Don't get too crazy though; a proxy character can go in the other direction and a Mary Sue (or Marty Stu as it were) can be just as dull from having too many attractive qualities. They make themselves mundane by inundation.

Give her consequential relationships with other secondary characters other than the love interest: friends, family, acquaintances. Invest some time developing these relationships, giving them emotional depth. Give her a life.

Most importantly, she should be an active character. She should make decisions, take action, work to solve problems, and figure things out. Perhaps it is not always the hero rescuing her; perhaps she could rescue him occasionally. While it is fun to be pursued, maybe she could take the initiative every now and then. Passive characters are boring characters, and they're not attractive characters. Imagine what it is about this person that is so striking as to make the hero fall in love with them.

Remember, "love is exception-making," so the main character of a love story should be just as exceptional as the person they love.

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GIVEAWAY OPPORTUNITY


Thanks for joining us on the Incendium blog tour! Be sure to take part in our giveaway! You have several options to be entered through our Rafflecopter, but you get the most entries by leaving a comment on this post! Today's question is...

What's one aspect of a character you like seeing in fiction? Any character quirks you prefer or have found intriguing in the past?


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Derek Bishop grew up in a small Virginia town along the Blue Ridge Mountains. He was raised on Southern Baptism and Star Trek. The Star Trek was the one that stuck. His parents were both teachers and imparted a love of literature and wilderness exploration on him. He went to school at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where he learned the joys of studying feminist theory, dancing to techno music, and grocery shopping side by side with colonial costumed re-enactors. He left one class short of a Gender Studies major and several classes too far of an English major. His latest work, Incendium, is now available from Storm Moon Press.

2 comments:

  1. An aspect of character I like seeing in my fiction is as the author said, a complete character. Otherwise you have either a boring book, or worse yet, a series of porn scenes strung together with a non-plot story. The characters need to be able to relate to one another and I need to be able to relate to them in order to enjoy the book. Thanks for the viewpoints and the contest! Incendium is definitely going on my wishlist.

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  2. The rafflecoptor wants a direct link to my comment here. Hmm . . .

    Anyway, I'd love to win the book, but rafflecoptor is worse than a boorrring character.

    However - your narrative has sold me on the novel to see if your post lives up to the characterization. I rarely read "romance" because I hate that the sole basis for attraction is the concept 'you see how hot/gorgeous this love interest is?' Yeah, not buying a lifelong commitment to a guy/girl that is super good looking. Can you say serial killer bait? Although I'm not opposed to soft porn, lol. Whole different reading pleasure, ya know!

    A reader needs to know the genre differences between women's fiction, erotica/soft porn, and romance. Nothing wrong with any of the genre's, but an average reader can be disappointed by a novel if they do not know the marketing strategies.

    This book sounds intriguing; I hope it has as much depth of character as you propose so I can honestly review it on my blog.

    .......dhole

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